With only 10 weeks to go in the MLS regular season, tempers are on the rise and nerves are on the edge.
Hot-blooded match-ups and strained refereeing dominated the schedule this week, as teams battled for their playoff lives.
The mounting pressure produced great, and not-so-great, goalkeeping that decided several outcomes; it also yielded loads of skillful play, terrific goals, and late drama. We saw several account-opening goals, a new contender in the West and a marquee debut.
We also witnessed momentous games at Crew Stadium and CenturyLink Field, and a historic one at Estadio Azteca, where the United States, with several current and former MLSers in their line-up, beat Mexico on Mexican soil for the first time in 75 years.
Now that the dust has settled, let’s take another look.
In Good Hands
FC Dallas nailed down two victories this week to run their winning streak to three games and move within five points of the final playoff berth in the West. Much of the credit will go, correctly, to playmaker David Ferreira, but goalkeeper Kevin Hartman has been instrumental in FCD’s rebirth as well.
WATCH: Ferreira’s blast stuns Rio Tinto
Ferriera set up both goals in a scrappy 2-0 win at Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday (there were nine yellow cards and 41 fouls), and on Saturday, he assisted on the opener and then crushed a dramatic 94th-minute winner to give his team a big 2-1 win at Real Salt Lake.
But Ferreira and Dallas wouldn’t have had the chance to win the game against RSL if Hartman hadn’t kept Dallas in it with four saves, including three great ones in the first half.
The same can be said of New York Red Bulls and Heath Pearce, whose 83rd-minute header completed the Red Bulls’ rally from a 2-0 deficit to beat Portland 3-2 on Sunday night.
New York might have been blown out if not for goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who made three monumental one-on-one saves in the second half to keep the score tied at 2-2.
Tim Cahill bagged the equalizing goal for New York in that one - opening his MLS account - and it came amid some dispute: The referee appeared to have whistled Portland for a hand ball in the box, as Cahill was driving home his shot.
But that was nothing compared to the fireworks that erupted elsewhere, as cards and controversy surfaced in equal measure.
In Montreal, the Impact rallied for a 3-1 victory over Western Conference leaders San Jose after the Earthquakes’ Steven Lenhart and Montreal’s Hassoun Camara were sent off in the 21st minute - and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski was sent to the spot for his 18th goal of the season.
The Impact took a 2-1 lead behind goals by Marco Di Vaio and Lamar Neagle, then iced the game in the 72nd minute when Jason Hernandez brought down Di Vaio in the box. Hernandez saw the third red card of the game and Patrice Bernier put away the spot kick to seal Montreal’s fourth straight home victory.
Men in the Middle
The Impact’s win temporarily put them in the fifth and final playoff spot — until D.C. moved back past them with a 1-1 draw against Philadelphia Union that was even more controversial than the Montreal-San Jose rock fight.
Referee Mark Geiger issued nine cards and three ejections, with most of the fur flying after Dwayne De Rosario’s penalty attempt in the 87th minute.
WATCH: DC, Philly rivalry gets interesting
De Rosario buried his initial shot to give United an apparent 2-1 lead, but Geiger ruled that D.C.’s Hamdi Salihi had encroached in the area before the kick, ordering a re-take and setting off a pushing and shoving contest between the two sides.
After United’s Branko Boskovic was sent off and the Union’s Michael Farfan was booked following the dust-up, DeRo clipped his second attempt off the crossbar, keeping the score deadlocked, as time wound down.
Geiger ejected two more players in stoppage time, producing a 10-v-9 battle in the waning moments, and drawing some fiery postgame comments from United coach Ben Olsen and president Kevin Payne.
There was no Anchorman–style escalation in Chicago Fire’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution, but there was some controversy, as Chris Rolfe’s fifth-minute penalty appeared to be whistled on a clean tackle by Revolution centre back A.J. Soares.
The Revs tied it up just six minutes later, but the Fire’s recent signing Sherjill McDonald scored his first MLS goal midway through the first half to send Chicago to their third straight victory and extend New England’s winless streak to seven games.
Not So Good Hands
As the seventh and eighth-place teams in the West, Chivas USA and Colorado Rapids are familiar with winless streaks, and on Saturday night, they showcased both sides of the week’s goalkeeping coin in a 1-1 draw.
The Goats’ Dan Kennedy kept his team in the game with a sensational reaction save on Omar Cummings’ 60th-minute header, while the Rapids’ usually excellent Matt Pickens misplayed Tristan Bowen’s cross, allowing Juan Pablo Ángel to tuck in an 83rd-minute equalizer.
On Wednesday, the Galaxy’s normally solid keeper, Josh Saunders, bungled Jairo Arrieta’s 25-yard roller in a 1-1 draw on an emotional night at Crew Stadium, where the home side officially said goodbye to deceased midfielder Kirk Urso.
Three nights later in Houston, Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who’s had an outstanding season, muffed Adam Moffat’s shot from distance, allowing an 82nd-minute equalizer. The 2-2 result dampened new Columbus Designated Player Federico Higuaín’s sparkling debut, and extended the Dynamo’s home unbeaten run to 12 games.
WATCH: Montero scores again off the bench
Sounders FC are not unbeaten in Seattle this season, but few would argue that they have one of the better home-field advantages in the league. Certainly not Whitecaps FC - not after coming to town for a pivotal Cascadia match-up and losing 2-0 in front of 55,718 fans at CenturyLink Field.
(That total, by the way, would have placed second among opening-weekend attendances of the English Premier League, behind only Arsenal versus Sunderland)
Feeding off the energy of the huge crowd, Seattle broke a scoreless deadlock with second-half goals from Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson. The win gave Sounders FC sole possession of third place, three points ahead of both LA and Vancouver, who were without controversially suspended midfielder Barry Robson.
Going to Extremes
Vancouver’s Canadian rivals Toronto FC had an interesting, though mostly fruitless, week. First, they tied Portland 2-2 last Wednesday in a battle of the last-place teams from each conference, then they lost to Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Saturday in a meeting of first vs. last in the East.